The Obstacle is the Path

Say Zen
4 min readSep 23, 2023

There’s a Zen saying I really love: The obstacle in the path. In other words, whatever you think is standing in the way of you realizing your goal is actually part of the process of you attaining that goal. There is no path to realization without obstacles; the obstacles are themselves the path.

Photo by Yann Allegre on Unsplash

It makes sense in the context of Buddhism, whose First Noble Truth states that life is suffering. Suffering isn’t an accident or an exception to the way things are supposed to go: the pain, frustration, stress and sadness and loss you feel are part of how life inescapably is.

The notion has brought me relief at times when I was really suffering — like from a broken heart. Reminding myself that the grief and brokenness I felt was not a sign that something had gone awry in my life, some awful punishment or mistake, but rather just the natural course of my human life, helped me to see how much of my suffering actually came from my resistance to it. I was aggravating my suffering by seeing it as something unnatural, and feeling victimized.

Suffering being an integral part of life (meaning not something that can be removed from it) means that whatever obstacle we find ourselves facing wasn’t dropped there accidentally. It was meant to be there; it forms part of the terrain of our existence. How will you get through it?